Two Years in Kyrgyzstan; First Trip with TUK

Issyk Ata Gorge panoramaBishkek is hemmed in by mountains to the south and the endless, rolling Kazakh steppe to the north.  There are few roads out of town, and endless mountains to explore.

Since the road is better and it’s a little more than half-an-hour from our house, we usually go hiking/picnicking at Ala Archa, the famed [and crowded] national park. But trails around Bishkek abound, hidden down bumpy paths behind the urban sprawl.  We just don’t want to risk our tires.  So for this Saturday I finally booked our first trip with Trekking Union Kyrgyzstan. As far as I understand it, TUK is basically a non-profit community organization run by board members who seek to provide more opportunities to locals and visitors alike to explore and appreciate natural Kyrgyzstan.  The union offers day hikes (calendar here), extended (3-5 day) camping and hiking excursions, equipment rentals, and hiking maps for sale.  I first arrived in Bishkek almost two years back and, while I’ve heard of TUK perhaps a dozen times, I’d never actually been on one of their trips.  Perhaps in part because they leave at 8am.kyrgyz steppe  So at 7:30 on Saturday we got out the door and drove to their office and meeting point at Turusbevoka and Kievskaya.  And waited.  For the (quite comfortable and clean) minivan did not leave until 8:20.  Soon we were out of town and rolling through the pretty Kyrgyz countryside.

To my surprise, almost everyone on the trip was local.  Apart from us, there was a German studying Russian at the London School and two middle-aged French women who came equipped with alpine hiking sticks and giant brimmed hats.  Then there were a few Kyrgyz couples, a dad with two college-aged kids, and a gaggle of university-aged girls all in white shorts and pink baseball caps, curiously unprepared for the hike in their sandals and cloth keds. Our guide was Andre, a wiry Russian member of the Trekking Union who helped everyone across slippery raging rapids bridges and let several segments of our group get lost several times (though it is pretty hard to stay lost for long in an enclosed gorge).
issyk ata soviet fountain  Our journey was to Issyk Ata, a soviet-era sanatorium located at the end of the road and the base of a long mountain gorge where herdsmen still go to let out their flocks in summer.  Issyk Ata itself was a depressing, dumpy one-street affair –  a still-functioning ‘medical center’ surrounded by broken gates, a few paint-peeling guesthouses, a locked-up canteen, dried up fountains with weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks, and three wind-blasted soviet apartment blocks with ragged laundry out to dry. I suppose it must have looked lovely about thirty years’ past.   We first hiked up a short stone stairs to one of the area’s older attractions – a 13th century Buddha carved in stone, now painted over in gold and, curiously, shaded by a tree covered in Muslim folk prayer clothes (in folk practice, one makes a wish/prayer and ties a piece of cloth on a sacred tree – like this tree here).  On the other side was a carved relief of Lenin.

From 10-5 we spent, well…hiking.  First up one side of the gorge, with a diversion to a waterfall, then down the other side of the gorge, after an hour rest and crossing a rather treacherous-looking log bridge. We returned to the vans more than a bit sunburned, tired, and full of fresh air.

Overall it was a really good experience – for 400 som each (less for members of TUK) we escaped from the city on the hottest day of the year, didn’t have to wreck our car over ruts, and explored a new place with a decent group of new people and an ever-enthusiastic volunteer guide.

Just a few things of note:

  • Do not buy the cheaper Russian brand sunscreen in the orange tubes at Harodnie.  It is useless.  I got less burned last time we went out and all I could find at home was SPF 10 suntan oil.  4 hour SPF 40 my red-burned shoulders. Shell out the 800 som and go for Nivea.  Or let me know a better place to find functioning sunblock in Bishkek.
  • Bring plenty of water.  We each went through about 2 litres.
  • Bring your own food.  I had thought lunch was provided; it was not, but [thankfully] I ended up being not that hungry anyway.
  • This isn’t a professionally-guided all-pampering trip.  I think the older French women were expecting that, and they were a bit frustrated at first.  The trails aren’t all great.  There will be slope-scrambling, creek-crossing, bush-whaking and mud in your shoes.


Ala Archa in Winter

…on a happier note, for Valentine’s Day we skipped the crowds and cafes of the city and headed up to Ala Archa, where it was windy but rather warm and sunny.

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Our trip to the near-wilderness was made complete by rolling (and smashing) a giant snowball, drinking tea and weak soup at the Ala Archa guesthouse at the trailhead (where you can stay overnight for a mere $42/dbl provided you reserve ahead), and getting stuck behind steppe ponies on our drive back.

Bishkek Date Ideas

Every Wednesday evening E and I have a date-night.  In winter this usually means going out to eat, as it seems like there isn’t a lot else we can do in the city when the sun sets at 5pm. This Wednesday we were in Almaty on our visa run, and thus designated date night was moved back to the weekend.  Having tried out nearly every decent restaurant in the city, I started looking online for a few more ideas.  Unfortunately, most listed on “50 Great Date Ideas” etc… are completely impossible in Bishkek.  So I decided to create my own list, just in case anyone else has a similar conundrum:

Weeknight Dates:

  • Great cafes for book reading and conversation: Coffee Cafe (Mira), Cave Coffee, cafe with the unpronounceable name just across the street from Beta 1, La Vita Cafe (by Bishkek Park), the new Adriano Cafe South of Beta 2.
  • Make a list of every cuisine in Bishkek.  Each week try something different.
  • Manas University, some of the other universities, and some of the embassies sometimes host concerts, music competitions, or other cultural events around the city.
  • Watch the latest American Blockbuster dubbed in Russian.  Even if you don’t understand all/any of it, watching Ninja Turtles in Russian could be potentially hilarious.

Weekend Day-Dates

  • Explore all the city’s parks.  The longer parks (Erkindik and Jash Gvardiya – just East of Osh Bazaar) make for really nice long walks.  Ata Turk Park (Axunbaeva) is beautiful in fall and has questionable amusement rides.
  • Scavenger Hunting! If either of you like tools or Soviet-era paraphernalia, both the 2nd hand bazaars/flea markets stretching south of Osh and between Beta 2 and Orto Sai have interesting finds.
  • Bazaar Gifting: go to Orto Sai, Osh, Madina or Dordoi; give each person a budget of 200 or 500 som and one hour to find the perfect gift for the other person.  Or do the same with the 2nd hand bazaar stretching from Beta 2 to Orto-Sai (fantastic soviet-era post cards! plants! real gas masks!)
  • Decide on a recipe that’s actually possible to cook in Bishkek; gather ingredients at the bazaar, and cook together.
  • Bishkek does have museums, and sometimes they’re even open during opening hours.

Weekend Evening Dates

  • Live Music! Chicago Pub, Old Edgars, Blonder Bag, Mid Point, Putin Pub and Promzona all have live music (and food).
  • Russian/Kyrgyz Theater, Ballet or Opera at the old Russian theaters North of Chuy.  It may not be the best theater you’ve ever experienced, but – it should be interesting…
  • Watch and bet on a sports game! (Johnny Pub, Midpoint, Fenerbahce Cafe); only good if you’re really enthusiastic about sports.
  • Go to an expensive restaurant just for dessert

Explore Outside of Bishkek

  • Pack a picnic and go to Ala Archa! If it’s winter, eat plov or soup (basically the only two options) at the hotel/restaurant by the hiking trail entrance
  • Pack a bottle of wine, head out Saturday afternoon, hike in Ala Archa, and spend the night at the little guesthouse.  I think room prices are $60-100.
  • Stop at one of the many restaurants en route to Ala Archa and have lunch + a short hike
  • Go to Jannat Spa and Resort for the day.  You can use the pool, Turkish hamam and Finnish Sauna for 700 som.  Plus their terrace has beautiful views of the mountains.
  • Spend the weekend at Jannat.  They have ‘couples’ packages covering accommodation Friday and Saturday, spa treatment, breakfast (and lunch?) for $296.  A little steep, but so are all hotel prices in Bishkek.
  • Drive past Jannat to Kaverna 12 Kaminov; have lunch by the creek outside and go hiking in the mountains.
  • Grab another couple and spend the weekend in  a cabin at Kaverna 12 Kaminov. (Full reviews on Jannat and K12K here)
  • Buruna Tower is only…two and a half hours away. But it’s really cool, and (again) you could pack a picnic. Photos Here.

…And now I’m kind of out of ideas.  Let me know if you have any.  Bishkek winter months are long, and I’d like a little more inspiration.

Almaty, Again (and travel tips for Bishkek-Almaty)

I visited Almaty for about a week in 2013. It was my first stop (after about half a dozen stops our driver made en route…) after leaving China, my first stay in a city where I felt absolutely lost in language. I had podcast-studied Russian for a month, and could fumble my way through enough Uyghur to attempt conversation in Kazakh (the two are close, but not as close as Uyghur-Uzbek or Kazakh-Kyrgyz). But I was lost.
Almaty was still a beautiful city, as were the expansive landscapes of Kazakhstan.

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This week, quite unexpectedly, we had to go back for a one-day visa run (because, apparently, according to ever-changing rules, the university can’t give us residence/work permits and one-year working visas from our entry visas, and so everyone suddenly needs to take a visa from abroad).

[A side note on Kyrgyz Visa Laws: like many other laws in the country, the legislation often produces good laws; the problem comes in their execution. First, there’s lack of structure (weak state) for implementation. Second, many of the civil servants don’t actually know the laws (lack of consistent and uniform access to information). Third, salaries are low and there’s pervasive corruption. And fourth, there’s little incentive to implement the laws to the letter, and no executive working system of compliance checking (though I guess that’s bundled into 1 & 3 as well. So basically every time you get a visa the procedure will be different, and you will pay a different amount. Also, if you are staying in Kyrgyzstan for more than 3 months and are not a student, expect to pay a lot for visas, because each time it gets muddled – like the university being unable to process visas and permits for the entire foreign staff until February – you have to pay for another visa.]

We woke up before five, when Bishkek is frozen as black ice bones, and took a taxi to the border at Korday (about 25 minutes from city center). We had called a taxi driver E knew; he drove us to the border, went through with us to ensure there were no problems, and helped us find a driver on the other side. If you aren’t short on time, and are leaving at a reasonable hour, there is a Marshrutka that leaves from around Tsum (I believe the #285 and #333) and costs 20 som. Taxi fare will depend on where you depart from within Bishkek.
To cross the border first you check out at the Kyrgyz post. You shouldn’t have to pay any money (unless you’ve overstayed your visa), but the border guards sometimes ask for bribes, usually depending on the color of your passport. One navy blue passport meant no problems for our entire trio.
From the Kyrgyz checkpoint you walk across a bridge over a rushing river, damp drafts whipping us so hard my teeth were chattering by the time we entered the Kazakh checkpoint. Again, no problems, and at 6 am the 24-hour border checkpoints were pretty quiet, excuse the occasional Dordoi Bazaar trader barging through with their bags of goods. (Note for Americans and most Europeans: as of October, 2014 you can enter Kazakhstan visa-free for up to fourteen days!)

By the time we bundled our way through the checkpoints, our driver had found a car to take us to Almaty and back, plus drive us around within Almaty.mIn summer the price is $100; he asked for $120 because he uses more gas to heat the car in winter. A bit steep, but we were on a schedule. If you have more time, a seat in a shared taxi costs about $10 each way, but you might have to wait over an hour for it to leave.
As soon as we left Korday we drove straight north over Kazakh steppe. In the pre-dawn darkness wind swept across the steppe and blew snow over the road in swirls so thick we could barely see twenty feet outside. When we stopped at a gas station around eight the thermometer outside read -20. Bishkek now seems balmy.
We napped in the car and woke up on the outskirts of Almaty, where our driver spent three quarters of an hour gingerly navigating through grid-to-grid traffic. Waking up in Almaty traffic after two weeks in Bishkek – is like switching a country bus in China for the sleek Shenzhen metro. Suddenly all the roads are clean and wide (there are actually people out cleaning the streets), drivers let other cars in, no one honks their horn, people flash their lights to warn of cops ahead – in short, people in cars are (on the whole) polite and civil! Unlike in Bishkek, where there’s a constant striving to take power and demand respect (in a country where most can claim none), drivers of the many, many luxury SUVs crowding Almaty’s streets weren’t assholes – a miracle!
Perhaps it’s because Almaty is more settled into its modern middle-classless. While the nominal GDP in Kazakhstan is a mere $13,509, (that’s 6-13 times more than Kyrgyzstan’s, depending on sources), Almaty is definitely inching towards middle-class, both in spending (the number of shopping malls and high-end stores) and expectations (clean streets, more civil public manners).

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Almaty is expensive, too. According to The Guardian, Almaty is one of the top 50 most expensive cities for expats. After we dropped off our visa applications, we had a mere 4 hours to kill (and it was -20 outside) so we headed to the cafe-lined pedestrian zone that stretches along Zhibek Zholy west from the green bazaar/one block south of Gogola. We ducked into the first place we saw, Kangnam Cafe, which was a mistake. I love Korean food; sweet-tooth Korean imitation Western food, not so much. E ordered a panini. It was sweet.

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Lattes were around $4.50, which I’m pretty sure is approaching New York prices, and my Udon noodle soup very obviously came from a package. Considering that I previously experienced Kazakh food to be wonderful (when compared to Kyrgyz) this was highly disappointing. The one thing I order in Kazakhstan, and it’s from a freeze-dried package.

Before meeting our driver and picking up visas we wandered over to the green bazaar. If you’ve been to other bazaars in Central Asia, it’s not exciting, just amazingly organized and clean. If you haven’t yet, it’s a quaint start. Don’t expect other bazaars to look like they popped out of Conde Nast Traveler.

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Our last stop was across Gogol in Park of the 28 Guardsmen, which has a beautifully preserved Russian Orthodox Church.

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And then we hopped in the car, picked up our visas without issue, and we’re back in Bishkek by nightfall.

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Eskişehir: a Two-Day Travel Account

Eskisehir (pronounced Eski-Shey-Here) is Turkey’s liberal university town, an Anatolian Boulder, CO sprawling across the banks of a meandering river. The tourism bureau hails it as a ‘Turkish Cultural Capital’ with its standing ottoman-style houses and surviving ancient crafts; CHP supporters stand proud of the urban reforms enacted by its progressive mayor and former university dean; and college students flock to the riverbanks for cheap beer, live music, and all-night tea houses with heated winter terraces.

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We drove down from Ankara, 2 1/2 hours over the austere Anatolian landscape (you can also take the bullet train which traverses between the cities in 1 1/2 hours, 50 lira per person round-trip).
Even in summer the hills surrounding Ankara seem severe and stony; in the winter it’s an endless visage of clouded skies and snow-peaked fields peppered by the occasional run-down hamlet or industrial small town. Indeed, rural Anatolia around Ankara is not the stuff of exotic Istanbul dreams.
Eskisehir itself is a city of layers. The first waves of city lapping the urban shore are poorer, older neighborhoods of broken buildings and single-family homes garnered by black laundry hanging to dry in the frozen winter wind. In parts of Eskishehir the existence of a low-end economic class is far more evident than in predominately middle-class Ankara.

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We wove through the outer lying suburbs to a rather average, middle-class small-city downtown.
Standard grey and pink apartment buildings, clothing shops, fresh restaurants and markets offering prices a quarter lower than Ankara or any stop along the Aegean and special dishes from the city’s resident Balkan and Tatar refugees. And then a few turns brought us to the district most famous with foreigners – the neighborhoods of old Ottoman houses set along steep, winding cobblestone streets.

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It was well past noon, so we stopped at a restaurant by the old mosque and handcraft studio offering standard Köfte and traditionally Tatar Çiğ Börek, which looks exactly like the stuffed and fried meat dumplings called чебурек (“cheburek”) I’ve seen in Bishkek stalls (Bishkek also once had a sizable Tatar population).

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We stayed nearby in one of Eskisehir’s many Konak hotels – old wooden Osmanli villas converted into B&Bs. After showering and unpacking we emerged again to discover that Eskisehir is a completely different city at night, when the many shops and cafes light up the streets and students pour out of classes to clog the cafes.

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We were with two friends who had visited Eskisehir before and went off in search of the famed cafe and bar street along the river banks. Educated, liberal youth in Turkey are definitely alternative in fashion. It seems like every other university student or recent graduate could easily blend in to Portland (Oregon), Berkeley or Brooklyn, as could the used bookstores, owl-themed cafes, hipster-ironic bars, and cheap eateries spreading from the river banks.

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We stopped first at Palmiye, a cafe with a heated outdoor terrace where students sat chatting or playing tabla (backgammon), and the only offerings on the menu were black tea, herbal tea, and Nescafé (ubiquitous around Turkey, and almost always as expensive as brewed coffee in the states).
Again, one thing I love about Turkey: the outdoor terraces attached to almost all cafes and restaurants aren’t just for warmer weather. Even in winter patrons sit outside under the many space heaters mounted high on the walls.
After the cafe we got better directions and wandered over to Social, one of many crowded old-school pubs with Afro-haired garçons who look like they summer in the Rastafarian-equestrian pansions lining Olympos.

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Despite the frosty air, Eskisehir’s partially-open air cafes and pubs fill every night, opening late in the afternoon and getting progressively crowded as time crawls into the early morning hours. These are Portland Pubs, where people order hipster burgers and Belgium beers and talk over tables for hours.
We meant to go to a live music show at the Shakespeare Pub, located in an old wooden trade and crafts hall with decadent chandeliers and polished worn wooden floors. But we had started our evening too early, and when we got there at 11 we were informed the show wouldn’t start until 1:30. So we took a taxi back to the hotel for $5 and fell asleep feeling slightly aged in this young-blood college town.

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The next morning started with a scrumptious full Turkish breakfast provided free at the hotel – plates of fresh cheese, pear and cherry preserves, fresh honey, clotted cream, oven-fresh bread and dainty pastries, dried figs and appricots, tahini spread and a big bowl of raw salad – cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro and arugula. Beats a Best Wester Coffee Bar any day.

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Since our friend had lost his car keys the previous evening, we left his pregnant wife at the hotel and went out retracing our steps. Unlike Ankara, which his (Ankara born-and-bred) wife Ö- deems “cold”, Eskisehir residents are full of famed Turkish small-town hospitality. Stop anyone on the street and they’ll fill you with far more information than you need.
We never did find the keys (a grandfatherly taxi driver found a friend of a friend who later showed up to unlock the car and make a new set), but walking along the river banks I discovered that Eskisehir on a Sunday morning is a lovely little city too, a little dreary under the snow, but also both sleepy and alive with warm winter chatter. In Spring, Summer, and Fall it’s probably downright lovely.

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While waiting for the key smith we wandered through the local handicraft bazaar (one of many) where local craftsmen had beautiful marbling, carved wooden boxes, miniature painting, glass sculpture, and pipes carved of white stone on display. The glass blowing workshop was open, and we watched a free demonstration as a master-glassblower made an elegantly curved center piece dish. This is what I miss in Bishkek – culture, color, discovery, craft and the pride in creating, in doing something well.

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Our last stop in Eskisehir was the wax museum. Snow had started falling, and Ö and I were cold standing outside while the car keys were created so we trapped over to the glass museum. But having already seen glass blowing, we headed into the wax museum next door instead. Which was…interesting. Full of Atatürks and figures from Turkey’s Revolutionary Past, Selcuk conquerors and Ottoman emperors were follower by contemporary artists, writers, doctors, musicians, and wax figures of boring-looking local businessmen, then a no-camera room of world politicians (including a very bad rendering of a comically grinning Obama), select international film stars and science figures (Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Einstein), a no-camera “Democracy Hall” with Erdogan at center and Menderes, the only Prime Minister to ever be executed, in an isolated case in the corner. I’ll let someone else tease out the political and ideological significance of the museum another day.

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Cappadocia/Göreme

Cappadocia/Göreme

The landscape is stunning; the remanents of a half-known history intriguing; the current towns overpriced and unappealing.
After a very busy week in Ankara E decided we would spend two days in Cappadocia (Kapadokya) for my birthday – and for some R&R. We stayed in the town of Göreme, the epicenter of Cappadocia tourism. My reviews of the two – mixed.
We chose Goreme because that’s where our hotel happened to be located, and we chose our hotel (Goreme Konak Hotel and Cave Suites) because it was the only hotel I could find with rooms in an actual cave *and* a jacuzzi/bath in the room (most Turkish hotels and homes have showers) for under $100 a night. I wouldn’t choose Goreme again.
The wider Cappadocia region is located some four hours away from Ankara. One hour after Ankara city center we enter farmland – endless sweeping plains. It’s like driving out of Chicago and into Montana. A few small towns dotting the ever-rolling golden hills and dry grasslands; a farmhouse here and there; a cluster of the squat apartment buildings so common across Turkey, one mosque and a strip of shops, a gas station whipped by wind.
Two hours out we came across Turkey’s great salt lake (Tuzgölü). Clever locals had carved out a parking lot and small boardwalk with free entrance advertised on the highway. As travelers walk towards the lake two enthusiastic youth with official-looking uniforms stop them, rub their hands with a salt scrub, and tell them to rinse their hands inside the open-facade shop right behind them, thus catching scores of curious customers. The lake itself is dry this time of year, pink salt lapping its shore. We walked out a hundred or more meters, and we’re still standing on a layer of salt over a centimeter thick. Then another hundred miles of Montana with mosques and we were in the great region of historical Cappadocia.
Cappadocia is a mix of geological wonders – part of the first Star Wars was filmed here – and crumbling ruins from ancient civilizations, both Christian and pre-Christian. It’s not one place, but a collection of rock formations and strings of ancient communities carved into the stone, Roman-era Christian hideouts, and underground cities. Certain parts are more famous than others, but even the dull middle-of-nowhere religious regional seat of Nevşehir has stunning cave dwelling complexes mixed with contemporary homes in the northern corner of the city. Tours seem to all hit the same twenty small sites; other places are all but abandoned. From Nevsehir we turned off the Ankara-Adana road to Uçhısar, a mid-sized town that lives half off agriculture, half off the tourism that blankets one hill. We didn’t stop in Uchisar, but if you want more of a Turkish experience while visiting Cappadocia, it seems a better option – cave dwelling castle and church ruins on one side (not to mention a panoramic view of the entire valley with its strange rock formations) – old houses and horse-drawn pumpkin carts on the other. Local people and local life not involved in the tourism industry has all but disappeared from Goreme, located just down the winding hill.
Goreme was once a town half built into the hills, stone and wood houses mixed with older dwellings carved straight into the soft stone. Locals now prefer to live in more modern houses, and all the cave dwellings have been converted into hotels. The rest of the town is covered in overpriced cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops selling local-style ceramics, Turkish-styled hippy clothing. Breakfast paltry by Turkish terms was included with our room, but we are out three times: the first testi (pottery) kebab at Sirin Cafe, pretty good but overpriced considering the wilted salad; the second tantuni and juicy chicken kebabs at the upstairs Hasan Usta decorated with tinsel no doubt from a Christmas eons past; the third at Saray Local Food grossly overpriced and a shame to Turkish cuisine. I didn’t see any place that looked too promising; our only good meals were at simple joints with locally-priced menus a few kilometers outside of Goreme proper.
Everywhere we went people spoke to us in English. Not because E looks particularly foreign (even I’m often mistaken for Turkish before I open my mouth to say more than “please” or “thanks”), but because so many of the visitors are foreign, far more than on any place along the coast except maybe the Kusadasi old town right after a cruise ship disembowels itself. Stopping by Fat Boy’s cafe for a cup of overpriced tea our first night, it seems like Cappadocia attracts a true mix of foreign visitors. There were the young world wanderer types, those who often collect ‘exotic’ experiences only to trade them like currency down the road; older Europeans and Americans, often here for the cultural relics, often staying in upper-end hotels; and there were hordes and hordes of young Asian tourists, some Korean and Japanese, but most of them English-Speaking Chinese, young professionals or students with cameras that cost more than most Chinese spend on yearly rent and pockets full of their parents cash. We saw one troupe of middle-aged men from Beijing with enough high-quality camera equipment and high-tech trekking gear to fit an entire National Geographic crew for a three month Safari assignment. It took me five minutes to convince E that they were from an exceedingly rich sliver of Chinese society and not representative of the country’s population as a whole. In China it’s only those who have surpassed comfortably middle-class living standards who have started to popularize urban biking, camping, and any kind of ‘roughing it’ (a bit akin to Berkeley hipsters paying $200 for assugly boots that look like they’ve been dragged from Great Aunt Silvia’s attic) And in recent years re-tracing the Silk Route – which generally ends in Turkey – has become a favorite route.

However, as I mentioned before, only a fraction of the sites attract any real number of tourists. The attractions, both cultural and geographical, are spread over an enormous area – most of which claims no paid entrance. We spent half of one morning hiking through the Rose Valley, peeking our heads in half-collapsed caves and marveling at the ribbed stone ceilings of an old monastery, wondering how these strange rock formations were formed. After a delicious lunch of peppers & egg scramble and gözleme at a nearby cafe we wandered on up the road, stopped at a preserved cave church with a magnificent painted ceiling, for which we paid $4 to see. Most of Cappadocia is free to wander. There are the “open air museums” at Goreme and Zelve, but the only difference seems to be that the artifacts there are more concentrated. Even a hundred kilometers away there is more to see – underground cave systems, and a whole valley filled with the last remnants of what once must have been a great civilization. Most of the dwellings are half-collapsed, doors high up in walls open to a twenty-foot drop, half a conical wall with windows that now shed light on no room. What exactly Cappadocia was like before is hard to imagine; I suppose in five-hundred years more of the soft stone will wear away and very little will be left to remember it at all.